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Grow Your Business

To Grow Your Business, You Need To Stop Working

A few years ago I was giving a presentation where an attendee was typing on his phone the entire time, no matter what I said. In an attempt to get his attention, I stopped talking. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally looked up: To get his attention, I stopped talking.

A counter intuitive tip from runner friends, Francis Laros and Chris Solarz: To go faster, you must go slower. In marathon training, you can’t continually do 5-minute mile workouts. You need to get in the slow distance runs and build your endurance base.

In order to achieve greater focus, listen to music. Scientists say that not only will you feel better, but you’ll also be able to block out colleagues’ ambient noises.

Wharton professor Adam Grant notes that in business and in life to receive more, you need to give more.

And an example for most who has lost anything: what you are looking for appears when you stop looking.

These examples contrast to the high speed Type “A” world of entrepreneurship, where number of hours worked acts as a badge of honor. Like investment bankers, entrepreneurs are always showing off the empty weekend office, their Friday night computer screens, or their holiday weekend completion list. Are we really getting more accomplished or are we damaging our long-term prospects?

Being an entrepreneur is hard; there is no roadmap. Steve Jobs’ “Think Differently” is still echoed by the myriad of investors, authors, and coaches out there: Daniel Pink points that creativity is trumping business acumen in the global marketplace. Peter Thiel looks for candidates that are working on “something [they] believe that nearly no one agrees with [them] on.” And Joshua Seldman, CEO at Executive Stamina, continually asks his clients if what they are doing is “common” or just “normal.” With continuous information from social networks and mass media, it is hard to think differently. “Plugging in” causes us to think the same as everyone else, think all of the same ideas are the great, see the same perspective, talk about the same things; how can you possibly think differently? Let’s look at some of the counterintuitive examples in business:

To grow mindshare, point customers to the competition: Hulu started as the portal for Fox and NBC television programming. Thus, if I wanted to watch ABC’s “Lost”, Google, not Hulu, would direct me to the appropriate site. To build mindshare that Hulu was “online television,” they started directing their valuable audience toward the competition! A message popped up: Hulu did not have the content, but you could find it at Today‘s connotation of Hulu: TV on the Internet.

To solve your core problems, ask the public: Non-employees famously improved upon Netflix’s recommendation algorithm. In a counterintuitive trend powered by sites like Innocentive, the most valuable and guarded parts of a company, its research and development, its patents, and its competitive advantage are being outsourced to freelancers. Companies could never find this in-house talent themselves since, typically, the successful solvers are those from different industries with different perspectives.

To gain mindshare, give your most valuable data away: Most social web sites out there consist of two equally valuable assets: users and data. In a circular relationship, users come to fetch data, data is created because of users, and more data and more users beget more data and more users. A trend that started with Facebook is for companies to give away their data to get more users. Many sites have an API, a way to pull data, most of the time for free, from the site programmatically to use for your own site. And it may be one of the reasons why Facebook did not go the way of MySpace.

Contrarianism also happens within businesses: From sales to prospecting to internal organization and labor, by approaching problems from a different perspective you find unique and innovative solutions.

To sell your product, stop selling: No one wants to feel like they’ve been sold to. Chris Grayson sells his product by selling others. The founder of the Smart Jewel talks about Smart Glasses (e.g. Google Glass), transitioning to Smart Watches (Apple Watch) and finally to his lcreation of the Smart Jewel, letting customers draw their own conclusions. Some sales people have stopped selling directly and been able to “tickle” prospects by inviting them to an event, sending them a relevant article, or as Veronika Sonsev, CEO and Founder of Insparq, noted, by friending them on Facebook and staying involved in their promotions, birthdays and other milestones.

To keep your job, have someone else do it: Companies can grow… by shrinking. Andrew Cohen from Brainscape asks his employees to try and make their jobs obsolete by utilizing information labor platforms like Elance-oDesk in order to protect their own jobs. Cohen believes that the additional freedom will allow his team to tackle bigger issues rather than get bogged down in administrative bureaucracies.

To raise capital, don’t try to: Investors are human; human nature is partially defined in Rene Girard’s theory of mimetic desire: the desire of an object because someone else wants it. In the world of investors, you sometimes want what you cannot have. Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures wanted to invest early on in Etsy while CEO Rob Kalin was skeptical of the value add that a venture capitalist would bring. Wilson persisted and finally, Kalin gave Wilson the chance to invest 1%. The rest is history.

Just when we think we’ve reached our wits end, LeasePass founder, Chris Crittenden, reminds us that as an entrepreneur you may be taking on less risk than those working at big companies, since a startup has many customers, and thus many sources of income, while working for a big company is your only source. Contrarian investing manager Nassim Taleb calls it being “Antifragile.”

In speaking with a variety of entrepreneurs, I bumped into Jeff Novich who likes to avoid articles like this saying that he believes you cannot follow conventional wisdom to find success. You need to know what NOT to do, since you cannot know what TO do. Alas, this story is contrarian in itself as we only provide example of positive space and not negative. However, in today’s world of information overload, fear of missing out, and amazingly simple groupthink, it’s important to maintain your uniqueness, your originality and your creativity. It’s easy to justify working harder, but when working harder is really working smarter, you may want to work different. You may want to talk to people of differing viewpoints, careers, and perspectives that help you see differently, since, sometimes your best thoughts come when you aren’t thinking about it. Eureka moments happen in the shower for a reason.